D-II basketball: Merrimack Valley boys’ basketball comes up short to Hollis-Brookline in semifinals

  • Merrimack Valley’s Caleb LeClair (3) and Jack Prewitt (12) react as time expires and Oyster River players start to celebrate at UNH on Monday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley guard Jake Hebert steals the ball from Hollis-Brookline guard Jonathan Brackett during the fourth quarter of the Division II semifinals at UNH on Monday, March 12, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley guard Jack Prewitt is swarmed by Hollis-Brookline players during Monday’s semifinals at UNH. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

DURHAM – Merrimack Valley senior Jake Hebert had already done it twice. There was the offensive rebound putback in the last second to win the first-round game. There was the 3-pointer at the buzzer to upset Kearsarge in the quarterfinals.

On Monday, MV trailed Hollis-Brookline by three in the waning moments of the boys’ basketball Division II semifinal at the University of New Hampshire, and the Pride was looking for Hebert again.

“I didn’t want to take the last shot because I wanted to give it to Jake,” MV point guard Caleb LeClair said. “He’s one of our star players and he did it the other night, and first game, too.”

Hebert got his hands on the ball in those final seconds, but he couldn’t find a shot. Eventually MV sophomore Kyle Dube stepped behind the line and put up a tough 3 at the buzzer, but the shot missed and the top-ranked Cavaliers (19-2) had a 46-43 win and a spot in Saturday’s D-II final.

“Felt like déjà vu,” Hebert said. “They covered it so well. I tried to create some space, but the guy just got right up in my shooting zone. They guarded it really well, so credit to them.”

Credit to No. 5 Merrimack Valley (15-6) for even being in a position to tie it at the end. Hollis-Brookline was bigger at every position and made the most of that size with huge advantages in rebounding (38-18 total, 16-7 offensive rebounds) and points in the paint (38-8).

“Their physicality really did us in,” MV coach Tim Mucher said.

That physicality was evident all game, and it came to the forefront in the final seconds.

After a pull-up jumper from LeClair (11 points, two assists) pulled MV to within a point (44-43 with 38.1 seconds left in the fourth), HB’s Scott Van Coughnett went to the line for a pair of free throws with 24.6 seconds to go. He missed them both, but Hollis-Brookline senior Matt Simco (21 points, 14 rebounds) pulled down the offensive rebound, just like he had been doing all night.

“(Simco) is a tough sucker, and he hurt us,” Mucher said.

MV immediately fouled Simco, but he drained both of his free throws, which led to the three-point deficit Hebert and the Pride were trying to erase in that last possession.

That was really nothing new for Merrimack Valley, which was trying to erase deficits for the entire night. The Pride scored just two points in the first quarter on 1-for-9 shooting and trailed, 12-2, after one.

“We were a little nervous because it was our fist time here and none of us had played in this big gym in front of everyone,” LeClair said, “so that’s why our first quarter was a little rough.”

Things weren’t going much better for the Pride in the second quarter as the Cavaliers built a 24-9 lead with 1:56 left in the first half. But MV’s Jack Prewitt (12 points) hit a 3 with 1:21 on the clock, Dube (10 points) got lucky and banked in a 3 about 30 seconds later and then Prewitt banked in a 3 of his own at the buzzer, and just like that MV was down by a manageable eight, 26-18, at halftime.

Prewitt, who did not start the game, started the third quarter and the decision paid immediate dividends as LeClair found him for an open 3 early in the third.

“We were just trying to grind back as a team,” Prewitt said.

They did just that, and when Ryan Defina (10 points, three steals) hit a pair of free throws with 3:30 left in the third, the Pride trailed by only three, 30-27.

“The adrenaline and excitement were going,” Defina said.

That was also the point when Simco went to the bench with four fouls, but the Cavaliers weathered the storm without him and held a 36-31 lead after three quarters.

“We kept playing hard and the next guys stepped up,” said Cole Etten, who is in his first year as the Hollis-Brookline coach after spending three years at Bishop Brady.

The Pride cut the lead back down to two, 37-35, in the middle of the fourth after another pair of free throws from Defina, but the Cavaliers went on a 6-0 run from there to take a commanding eight-point lead, 43-35, with 1:33 on the clock. But MV answered with a 6-1 run thanks to 3-pointers from Hewitt and Dube to set up the nail-biting final minute.

“A lot of people doubted us going into the season, and it just felt good to prove that we could get to UNH,” Hebert said. “The ultimate goal was to win it and we came up short, but it just felt good to string something together with these guys, we’re so tight knit. Tough to see it end like this, but I’m really proud of how we came out and battled to the end.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)